Laws of Religion

Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men

 

Modesty

 

Revelations Concerning Screening and Covering Women

 

From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim

 

 

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Revelations concerning screening and covering women (hadith). (The hadiths summarized here describe the circumstances under which the revelations of the Qur’an concerning the screening of Muhammad’s wives from view and the covering of women’s bodies were revealed. There are also examples given of times when Muhammad’s wives were shielded from the view of unrelated men.)

 

Hadiths say that at a wedding banquet following the marriage of Muhammad to one of his wives, some of the guests stayed on in Muhammad’s house talking after the meal long after Muhammad had left the house. When Muhammad returned, the guests were still there though Muhammad expected them to have left by then.[1] This occasioned the revelation of the passage of Qur’an (33:53-55)[2] concerning the shielding of Muhammad’s wives.[3] In this passage, the Qur’an says not to visit Muhammad’s home uninvited or overstay if one is invited. Visitors to Muhammad’s home are to speak to his wives from behind a curtain in order to ensure purity of heart both of the visitor and Muhammad’s wives and also so that Muhammad does not get annoyed.[4] The Qur’an specifies that Muhammad’s wives could, however, reveal themselves to their fathers, their sons, their brothers, their nephews and their slaves or women.[5] Hadiths say that when this passage was revealed by Muhammad, a screen was set up and Muhammad’s wives were then shielded from the view of any guests in the house.[6]

 

Umar (a close companion of Muhammad who would become his second successor as leader of the community of Muslims) wanted Muhammad’s wives to veil themselves[7] and he often asked Muhammad to order them to do so,[8] but Muhammad refused.[9] Muhammad gave his wives permission to go out of the house to relieve themselves.[10] At that time it was the practice of some people to hide themselves when relieving themselves (or having sexual intercourse) in an open space so their private parts would not be revealed to the sky.[11] The wives of Muhammad would go out only at night to defecate in an open field.[12] (They could not go out of the house during the day when they would be seen by unrelated men.) One night Umar followed Sauda, one of Muhammad’s wives, into the field at night and called out to her by name to show that he could recognize her. Even though it was nighttime, her large, fat body showed Umar who she was.[13] Sauda told Muhammad what had happened.[14] Then the verses of the Qur’an (24:31, 33:59; cited previously)[15] were revealed.[16]

 

These verses of Qur’an say that believing women should draw their outer garments close so that they will be recognized and not harassed.[17] Women should not display their charms beyond what is apparent. They should cover their breasts. They should not reveal what is hidden except to their husbands, their fathers, their fathers-in-law, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their nephews (that is, close male relatives whom they are forbidden to marry (mahram)), their women, their slaves, men who serve them who lack sexual vigor and children who do not understand about the private parts of women. Women should not stamp their feet so as to reveal their hidden shapeliness.[18]

 

The hadiths report that Umar said that these verses of Qur’an concerning covering of women were revealed because Allah agreed with him about the need for such covering.[19]

 

When some women were talking with Muhammad, Umar came in. The women rushed to screen themselves from Umar’s view. They said that they were afraid of Umar because he was a harsh and stern man, unlike Muhammad. [20]

 

According to a hadith, Muhammad’s wife Aisha said that when the Qur’an verse was revealed requiring women to cover their breasts and not display their charms beyond what was apparent, women would cut pieces from their waist wrappers and use the pieces to cover their faces.[21]

 

When Muhammad heard a eunuch, who had been visiting his wives, describe the body of a woman he had seen, he said that eunuchs, like other unrelated males, would not be permitted to visit his uncovered wives.[22] (The eunuch’s description showed that he appreciated what made a woman’s body desirable – many folds in front and back caused by much fat.)

 

After the Muslims won a battle, Muhammad told one of his men to take any female captive, now enslaved, as his own. The man selected Safiyya, but when Muhammad was told that she was fit only for him, himself, he told the man who selected her to find another captive female slave for himself. Muhammad took Safiyya to be his own.[23] He consummated his marriage to her.[24] The people did not know if he had married her as a slave or as a free woman until he appeared at the wedding feast with her. Since she was veiled, it was clear that she was a free woman as Muhammad’s wife and no longer a slave.[25] Muhammad had manumitted her and her manumission was her bridal payment (mahr*).[26]

 

The hadiths tell a story about when Muhammad’s wife Aisha was traveling with Muhammad and his army and she rode on a camel while concealed in an enclosed howdah. This was after the revelation concerning screening. When the army moved from one campsite, Aisha was left behind because no one realized that she was not in the howdah.[27] When a man came along and found Aisha alone, she covered her head and face with her clothing.[28] (More details of this story are here.)

 

Hadiths report that when Fatima bint Qais was divorced from her husband, Muhammad did not want her to live with another woman during her waiting period (iddah) period because that woman often had visitors[29] and they might see her with her head or body uncovered.[30] Muhammad told Fatima bint Qais to move to another house[31] where her family[32] (her cousin[33]) lived, for her iddah period.[34] Muhammad sent her to live in the house of her cousin Ibn Umm Maktum who was blind and thus he would not see her when she removed her garments.[35]

 

 

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*Mahr is a payment given by the groom to the bride upon their marriage.

 

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 12, 2016

 

 

Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.



[1] BK 6:60:314, BK 6:60:315, BK 6:60:316, BK 6:60:317, BK 7:62:95, BK 7:65:375, BK 8:74:255, BK 8:74:256, ML 8:3330, ML 8:3333, ML 8:3334, ML 8:3335, ML 8:3336

[2] QR 33:35-55

[3] BK 6:60:314, BK 6:60:315, BK 6:60:316, BK 6:60:317, BK 7:62:95, BK 7:65:375, BK 8:74:255, BK 8:74:256, BK 9:93:517, ML 8:3330, ML 8:3333, ML 8:3334, ML 8:3335, ML 8:3336

[4] QR 33:53

[5] QR 33:54-55

[6] BK 6:60:314, BK 6:60:315, BK 6:60:316, BK 6:60:317, BK 8:74:255, BK 8:74:256, ML 8:3330, ML 8:3333, ML 8:3334, ML 8:3335

[7] BK 1:4:148, BK 8:74:257, BK 6:60:10, BK 6:60:313, ML 26:5397-5398

[8] BK 1:4:148, BK 6:60:10, BK 8:74:257, ML 26:5397-5398

[9] BK 1:4:148, BK 8:74:257, ML 26:5397-5398

[10] BK 1:4:149, BK 6:60:318

[11] BK 6:60:203

[12] BK 1:4:148, BK 8:74:257, ML 26:5397-5398

[13] BK 1:4:148, BK 7:62:164, BK 6:60:318, BK 7:62:164, BK 8:74:257, ML 26:5395-5396, ML 26:5397-5398

[14] BK 6:60:318, BK 7:62:164, ML 26:5395-5396

[15] QR 24:31; QR 33:59

[16] BK 1:4:148, BK 8:74:257, ML 26:5397-5398

[17] QR 33:59

[18] QR 24:31

[19] BK 1:8:395, BK 6:60:10, BK 6:60:313, ML 31:5903

[20] BK 4:54:515, BK 5:57:32, BK 8:73:108, ML 31:5899-5900

[21] BK 6:60:282

[22] ML 26:5415, ML 26:5416

[23] BK 1:8:367, BK 2:14:68, BK 5:59:512, ML 8:3325-3326, ML 8:3328, ML 8:3329

[24] BK 5:59:523, BK 7:62:22, BK 7:62:89

[25] BK 5:59:523, BK 5:59:524, BK 7:62:22, BK 7:62:89, ML 8:3328

[26] BK 1:8:367, BK 2:14:68, BK 5:59:512, BK 5:59:513, BK 7:62:23, BK 7:62:98, ML 8:3325-3326

[27] BK 3:48:829, BK 5:59:462, BK 6:60:274, ML 37:6673-6674-6675

[28] BK 5:59:462, BK 6:60:274, ML 37:6673-6674-6675

[29] ML 9:3512, ML 9:3515-3516, ML 41:7028-7029-7030-7031

[30] ML 41:7028-7029-7030-7031

[31] ML 9:3512, ML 9:3514, ML 9:3515-3516, ML 9:3517, ML 9:3521, ML 9:3523, ML 9:3532, ML 41:7029

[32] ML 9:3521, ML 41:7029

[33] ML 9:3523, ML 9:3527-3528-3529

[34] ML 9:3521, ML 41:7029

[35] ML 9:3512, ML 9:3514, ML 9:3515-3516, ML 9:3517, ML 9:3518, ML 3519-3520, ML 9:3523, ML 9:3527-3528-3529, ML 41:7028-7029-7030-7031